VII. Swift Hands


The man next to me on the tube is reading The Evening Standard. He has tattoos on his arms, but I cannot see what they are. He flicks a page; the tip of a wing peeks through. The more stations that pass, the more I am curious. The man himself is nondescript, handsome in a washed-out way. He scratches his wrist as he reads. I must know! We are speeding towards Victoria. I cannot explain why, but I am seized with panic, as if time is running out. What if he gets off at the next stop, and I never know?  But the cardinal rule! Thou shalt not speak unto strangers on the tube.  A hot courage surges through my body - and suddenly my lips part. I blurt out a question. 

He looks at me, as if snapping out of a daze. As he considers me, I gape. The woman across from me sniggers. Then - the moment passes. He shakes out his arms and shows me in detail. Now I see: they are doves, made from dark lines and grey shading. They wind from his wrists to his forearms. 

"One on each wrist," he says. "They mean: swift hands." 

The tube is slowing again: Victoria. The man gets up, and the doors zip open. 

"Swift hands." I say, as a way of farewell. He looks back and nods, just once. He steps out. The doors zip close.